November 23, 2006
I went over to the old house for a visit and found Bill and Grandma watching TV in the living room. TV was on, what a surprise. The TV was always on over there. But unlike Tina, who parked Grandma in front of the TV and generally ignored her afterwards, at least Bill would engage her in conversation. He tried to, anyway. Grandma was having more and more trouble stringing words together. However she still had enough presence of mind to roll her eyes at me and imitate all of Bill’s sniffles and facial tics whenever his back was turned. Nice. Very nice.
My oldest sister Kathleen was there as well. She was bustling around the kitchen, undoubtedly cleaning up the mess it became since Tina was away. When she heard me in the living room she poked her in the doorway and beckoned me inside. Once I was in there with her she lowered her voice and told me that Dad went out and wouldn’t be back until almost midnight, so she was watching Grandma. Okay… and she needed to tell me this privately? And why couldn’t Bill watch Grandma? Wasn’t that the whole point of him being there in the first place?
Interesting. I just went back out to join the others, doing my best to fend off Kathleen’s pissy little pocket poodle, who had come along for the visit. At around 8 Bill announced he was going down to the grocery store for cold cuts before the deli closed, and I went with him. Meanwhile I was sure that Kathleen was preparing a full report for Dad when he got home, telling him that “Tommy and Bill snuck out together.” But I didn’t care; I wanted a chance to talk to him alone and find out about the latest goings-on at the house. And when Bill went upstairs to get his coat and car keys, Kathleen came out of the kitchen, made a whistling noise and circled her finger next to head, and pointed at Bill’s back going up the stairs.
Right, Bill was the crazy one in the house. But he gave me the rundown on the latest. For starters, he’s not allowed to talk to Tina. Tina’s been walking around wearing a surgical mask like Michael Jackson because she thinks Bill is sick and doesn’t want to catch anything from him. Then he told me that Dad killed all his plants in the window by pouring salt water into the pots. And not only that, but Dad was stalking Luke Skywalker’s family and leaving notes taped to the house looking for Bill. He wants to talk to them to find out what Bill is doing when he’s not home. And the children were terrified because Bill had been entertaining them with stories from the war front, and now they thought some crazy man was after them.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dad’s lawyer came by the house and they all sat down for a talk. Dad’s lawyer? Oh, please don’t tell me we’re going back to court. Why was he getting involved? Did Dad bring him in to mediate things? But Bill told the lawyer that he felt that Grandma was being neglected, like when he came home one Sunday and found her trying to get out of bed by herself, and nobody else was there. Then he told the lawyer that Dad was on the verge of a major breakdown. Bill even took him upstairs to show him his “living quarters.” The best part was when the lawyer asked him to turn on the lights so he could better see the room, and Bill said that he didn’t have any – not only were the lights removed and the power shut off, but all the plug sockets had been torn apart in the walls. The lawyer just stood there going, “Oh my God…”
We got some food from the store and headed back to the house, and Kathleen was unnerving me with her Tina-like behavior. Same sour puss on her face. Same mood swings from annoyed to amused and back to annoyed again. Same fakesy-smile bullshit talk with Grandma. The only difference was that Kathleen wasn’t speaking on her cell phone in Russian for three hours. In fact, the more I looked the more I noticed that Tina was like Kathleen who was like Dad. No wonder they all got along. Must be an Aries thing.
Kathleen seemed more annoyed than usual, though. I thought it was because she stuck on Grandma duty, but it turned out that Bill was the one bothering her. Just his presence was enough, and for the entire night she wouldn’t even go in the same room as him. Then at around 9 I heard a knock on the door. What, Dad’s home already? No. It was Rick the Dick, her boyfriend. This dumb fuck? He was one of her typical boyfriends, the kind she finds at the bar or the gym. You know, big meathead assholes who can’t put their arms down. And this clown came to Grandpa’s funeral in a polo shirt.
Anyway, he had food from Boston Market – dinner for them and Grandma (at last). Grandma ate in front of the TV, and the two of them sat in the dining room. Then the moved down to the den and I heard them talking in hushed tones. “You wouldn’t believe what’s been going on here…” I heard Kathleen telling him. Well, Kathleen generally appeared once every six months, so whatever she knew about the goings-on at the house was whatever Dad told her. Obviously he’d been telling her that Bill was a nutcase.
Kathleen called me down to the den a few minutes later. She was trying to get the TV working in there so she and Rick the Dick could watch something. Oh, so that’s why she grabbed all the remotes around the house. I happily informed her that the TV was defunct (as was most of the stuff in the house) and Dad just put it there for decoration. I made my way back to the living room, calling over my shoulder that they should stop lurking down there and “come join the party.”
“Tommy!” Kathleen answered in scolding tones.
“What?” I asked, turning and looking at her. She got up in a huff and followed me into the other room, Rick the Dick trailing stupidly in our wake. Then she started making exaggerating imitations of Bill’s twitches and sniffles just as Grandma had done, and concluded with an exceptionally ugly look directed towards Bill’s back in the kitchen.
“Well, if that’s the way you feel about it,” I said as we settled into the living room. Rick the Dick sat down on the couch like a boulder. I was surprised not to see moss growing on his head.
“He’s got a problem,” she muttered nastily as she bent over the DVD player.
“Everybody’s got problems, Kathleen,” I said at normal volume. Like our father, I should have added. I was thoroughly disgusted with her. Later she went to put Grandma to bed and it was just me and Bill and Rick the Dick. The funniest part was that Bill kept calling him “Dick” all night because I told him about the family’s nickname for him. But Bill was honestly confused and thought his name was Dick, and Rick the Dick didn’t bother to correct him. Meanwhile I was waiting for Rick the Dick so start up with some bullshit about “how come you don’t ever see your sister?” like he did once before.
Kathleen complained to him how she never sees her family, yet we invite her to everything and she rarely shows. And when she does, she sits in the corner sulking, texting on her phone and not interacting with anyone else. She only comes alive in the last ten minutes, hurrying around making everyone pose for a million pictures before she runs out the door. Every time without fail.
Mary and I stopped the house a few days later for Thanksgiving, and it was almost the same exact visit. Kathleen was bustling around in the kitchen again, and Rick the Dick was there too. He was asleep on the couch in the living room and came to when we opened the door. He grunted some sort of greeting at us, but I didn’t answer him as I didn’t speak Troll. But the best part was when Dad came downstairs and I asked him where Grandma was. Apparently she was on the toilet. By herself. Unbelievable. “Well, you’d better get in there,” I told him. Good move, ace. When we were all seated around the table, Mary and I tried to carry on a conversation with Grandma while Kathleen was asking Dad what he wanted for Christmas. Wtf?
“You’re actually asking him what he wants for Christmas?” I piped up. “You don’t ask people what they want, you just get it for them.” So we went back and forth about that for a few moments, and then Kathleen asked him again.
“What I want, nobody can get me,” Dad said. Oh geez, here we go.
“What’s that?” Kathleen asked.
“My wife,” he muttered.
“Oh,” said Kathleen.
We had a boring, uneventful dinner, and then Kathleen came out with her stupid camera. Ah, it must have been near quitting time for her!
“Tommy, take a picture of me and Grandma!”
“What, another picture? How many pictures of you and Grandma do you need? Didn’t you take one when you were here a few days ago?”
“Well, it’s Thanksgiving!” Yes, she needed a picture for every time she came over.
“You should have saved some of the turkey then. How’s anybody going to tell it’s Thanksgiving when you have a hundred pictures of the two of you in the same pose?”
Then she got really nasty and told me it’s about the memories.
“Memories of what, you asking everyone to take a picture…?” I muttered under my breath. But I took the picture, and as soon as I lined up the shot I noticed that Grandma was looking towards the kitchen with disgust on her face. Oh, perfect. I snapped the picture right at that moment. See, even Grandma thought the whole thing was bullshit too.
Mary and I beat it out of there right after Kathleen did, and Mary was literally shaking off the feeling of being in the house. She, too, picked up on how Kathleen was like Tina, with the way she was wiping Grandma’s mouth clean, clearing the plates off the table, and just the general attitude. She was actually a bit creeped out by the similarities.